In an atmosphere of mounting tension in Indonesia, as well as Australia, a naval task group of nine ships, including four frigates and the British destroyer HMS Glasgow, sailed out of Darwin Harbour at dusk.
The first of an initial force of 2,000 Australian troops, along with 250 British Gurkhas, are expected to fly into the capital of East Timor, Dili, tomorrow to secure the airport and establish a headquarters for the International Force East Timor (Interfet).
What they will encounter there is still a matter of deep uncertainty. Nervous comparisons are being made in Australia with the collapse of the UN peace mission in Somalia in 1993, which withdrew after 18 American Rangers were killed by local militiamen.
In Surabaya, on the island of Java, Muslim leaders called for an Islamic holy war, or jihad, against the UN forces, and claimed to have signed up thousands of volunteers to fight "foreign intervention". Hasyim Muzadi, the head of a local Muslim group, said: "The anger of Indonesia's people is not only directed at Australians but also especially at the US."
There is a real possibility of armed clashes between the peacekeepers and the Indonesian army, or the militias it equips and controls. Hundreds of Indonesian soldiers departed East Timor in naval vessels yesterday as part of what its commanders say is an orderly withdrawal and handover to the international forces. But at least 3,600 members of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI), as well as unknown numbers of militiamen, will remain in the territory during the deployment of the peacekeepers.
Refugees were also escaping from Dili yesterday on three ferries and gunfire was heard in parts of the city at daybreak.
Under the mandate agreed in the UN Security Council, Interfet troops are authorised to use "all necessary force" to carry out their mission.
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